32nd, 33rd, and 34th days of Lent

In the passion account according to Luke (23:49) we read: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

In the other gospels, the disciples have fled; only the women watch from a distance, or in John’s gospel just a few women are at the foot of the cross with the one beloved disciple. Here in Luke’s gospel there is denial by Peter and betrayal by Judas, but there is no sense of Jesus being abandoned by everyone, no locked rooms of fear. In Luke all of Jesus’ followers are watching the horrible thing that is taking place to their teacher and leader…from a distance.

The distance, as Luke presents it, was not just physical. The distance between themselves and their dying Lord was their incomprehension. There was a huge gap, a great distance between the defeat and failure they thought they were seeing and the saving work of God’s forgiveness for the world. They had no idea what God was doing, no idea of what was being enacted on the cross before their very eyes. Three days later when a few women reported that they had seen the empty tomb and angels, the band of followers wouldn’t believe them. Not until their risen Lord personally appeared to them breaking bread and explaining scriptures would the distance between what they thought and what God had truly done begin to close.

Unlike his followers that day, we know what is going to happen. Unlike his followers, we know what the scriptures tell us, because they wrote it down for us. That doesn’ t mean we never struggle with doubts. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times we feel distant from God in spite of the good news of scriptures. It does mean, however, that like them none of us can truly comprehend the mystery of what God did that day.

“But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” Here is how we are most like those acquaintances that day. They stood at a distance because there was nothing they could do to help. Events had spun out of their control, and they couldn’t prevent their Lord’s inevitable death. They could do absolutely nothing except watch the horror unfold.

In the end, neither can we. We are as helpless as those acquaintances standing at a distance watching Jesus die on a cross. We watch from the distance of time, of centuries. Still, like the followers then, we can do nothing about saving ourselves from inevitable death and ever present sin. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot free ourselves. We cannot make ourselves exist beyond death. This is only God’s doing. All of us, whether we realize it or not, are totally dependent on God acting on our behalf every day of our lives.

And so we stand at a respectfully human distance, watching–and praying and singing and thanking–because God is on the cross; because in a way we cannot fully grasp, God is acting with love and forgiveness on our behalf. God, and no other, can do that. Thanks be to God.

Comments

  1. Right on, Elaine. Thank you for writing this. It seems I need reminding. I should have the following tattooed on my forehead (backwards of course, so I can read it in the mirror while I brush my teeth):

    “All of us, whether we realize it or not, are totally dependent on God acting on our behalf every day of our lives.”

    Pretty sure my forehead is big enough…

  2. I laughed at your imagery: not just taping something to the bathroom mirror, but inscribing it on your forehead, backwards to read it! Spoken as a true artist, of course. Thank you for the picture.